Wes Welker expected to hit free agency, according to report

Al Bello

The New England Patriots have been talking with Wes Welker about a long-term contract but, according to a new report, Welker plans to test the free agent market first.

Wes Welker is going to hit the free agent market before any ideas of re-signing with the New England Patriots enter his mind, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

This news comes as something of a surprise considering it was widely reported that the team and Welker were close on a new deal earlier this week.

Welker played on the franchise tag last season and there have been many grumblings that he isn't thrilled with the way his contract negotiations have been handled to this point. Even after quarterback Tom Brady restructured his deal to provide New England with more cap space, the Patriots seem very reluctant to give Welker elite money.

Over the last six seasons, Welker has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards every year except 2010. In the last two seasons, Welker, a five-time pro bowler, has led the league in receptions with 122 and 118 respectively, helping Bill Belichick and co. move the chains at an incredible rate.

Should Welker walk out the door and become an unrestricted free agent on March 12, it's expected he will have a bevy of teams calling him right away. Some of the franchises that could use him the most are the St. Louis Rams, Miami Dolphins (where he used to play), Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts, who have a truckload of cap space.

On the other side, New England would be in the market for a new slot receiver and could go after the oft-injured Danny Amendola, who the Rams couldn't come to terms with.

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